Tristan Harris, a former Google “design ethicist” who recently co-founded the Center for Humane Technology, is shaking up society’s tech obsession by arguing that the business models of today’s tech companies are intentionally designed to take complete control of their users’ time.
His critique of how Silicon Valley designs products meant to addict their users for the sake of advertising dollars has almost become a mainstream movement, with politicians and CEOs echoing the same sentiment. The question of how companies can shift their products to focus on “time well spent” instead of how much time users spend is one that very soon could affect how tech is used in the events industry.
In a recent interview on The Ezra Klein Show, Harris discusses tech culture and how current technologies are disempowering because they are not built around an honest view of human nature. Big tech companies argue that they offer users a variety of ways to spend their time, but those users tend to click on the more sensational stories and therefore must be the kind of distraction they want. But the difference between 150 calm, conscious choices made throughout the day and 150 anxiety-driven reactions to something popping up on a screen is quite drastic.
One way Harris believes smartphone technology can become less distracting is by turning on the grayscale option in the phone’s settings. This black-and-white screen is very different from the one with colors and pop-ups created to distract users and keep them clicking. More steps need to be taken though, according to Harris, who says in a recent NPR interview that the problem of technology obsession could eventually become a public health issue if companies don’t start to create solutions.
While tech companies would need to take the initial steps in fixing a national problem, meeting planners can start now by addressing how to incorporate humane technology use at events. How can you encourage attendees to focus on “time well spent” and provide more meaningful tech experiences that help attendees expand their viewpoints? How can you use tech to create bonding experiences? How can you start to eliminate the need for tech altogether during some parts of your events?
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